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Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 1972–2008

NCES 2011-012
December 2010

National Status Completion Rates

The status completion rate indicates the percentage of young people who have left high school and who hold a high school credential. The rate reported here is based on CPS data and represents the percentage of 18- through 24-year-olds who are not enrolled in high school and who have earned a high school diploma or an alternative credential, including a GED certificate. The status completion rate includes individuals who may have completed their education outside the United States, so the rate is not suited for measuring the performance of the education system in this country. The status completion rate is not the inverse of the status dropout rate (i.e., status completion does not equal 100 minus the status dropout rate). The rates are based on different age ranges, with the status dropout rate reported for 16- through 24-year-olds and the status completion rate reported for 18- through 24-year-olds. The completion rate excludes high school students from its denominator, whereas high school students are included in the denominator of the status dropout rate.

  • Status completion rates: In 2008, some 89.9 percent of 18- through 24-year-olds not enrolled in high school had received a high school diploma or equivalency credential (table 9).20 Overall, status completion rates have increased since 1972 (figure 4 and table 10), but during the 1970s they remained largely flat. Since 1980, the rate has shown an upward trend, starting at 83.9 percent in 1980 and rising to 89.9 percent in 2008.
  • Status completion rates by sex: Females ages 18–24 who were not enrolled in high school in 2008 had a higher status completion rate (90.5 percent) than their male counterparts (89.3 percent) (table 9).
  • Status completion rates by race/ethnicity: In 2008, among 18- through 24-year-olds not currently enrolled in high school, Asians/Pacific Islanders (95.5 percent), Whites (94.2 percent) and persons of two or more races (94.2 percent) had status completion rates of over 90 percent. All three had rates that were higher than those for Blacks (86.9 percent), American Indians/Alaska Natives (82.5 percent), and Hispanics (75.5 percent) (table 9).

    Status completion rates for Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics exhibited no general patterns of change during the 1970s, but rates trended upward for each group between 1980 and 2008 (figure 4 and table 11).

    In 2008, some 59.8 percent of foreign-born21 Hispanics ages 18–24 who were not currently enrolled in high school had completed high school (table 9). Compared to foreign-born Hispanics, status completion rates were higher for Hispanics born in the United States (85.1 percent for “first generation” and 85.8 percent for “second generation or higher”), although in each immigrant category Hispanics had higher status completion rates than non-Hispanics.
  • Status completion rates by sex and race/ethnicity: For Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics, status completion rates differed by sex (figure 5). In 2008, White and Hispanic females had higher status completion rates than their male counterparts. Specifically, 94.9 percent of White females and 77.9 percent of Hispanic females had completed high school in 2008, compared with 93.6 percent of White males and 73.2 percent of Hispanic males, respectively. Among Blacks, males had higher status completion rates (89.1 percent vs. 85.0 percent). No measurable differences by sex were detected between the status completion rates of American Indians/Alaska Natives, Asians/Pacific Islanders, and persons of two or more races.
  • Status completion rates by region: Consistent with status dropout data by region, 18- through 24-year-olds in the West, South, and Midwest had lower status completion rates (88.7 percent, 89.1 percent, and 90.3 percent, respectively) than their contemporaries in the Northeast (92.7 percent). Additionally, the West had lower rates than the Midwest (table 9).


20 Considering all 18- through 24-year-olds, irrespective of enrollment status, 84.7 percent held a high school credential in October 2008 (estimates not shown in tables).
21 Foreign-born refers to people who were born outside of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.